Conservatives win landslide victory in Seoul, Busan by-elections - Korea Times
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Conservatives win landslide victory in Seoul, Busan by-elections

Oh Se-hoon, left, and Park Heong-joon, the candidates of the main opposition People Power Party for Seoul and Busan mayor posts, react at the party headquarters in Seoul and Park's election camp in Busan, respectively, early Thursday morning, after their victory in the by-elections has almost confirmed. Yonhap
Oh Se-hoon, left, and Park Heong-joon, the candidates of the main opposition People Power Party for Seoul and Busan mayor posts, react at the party headquarters in Seoul and Park's election camp in Busan, respectively, early Thursday morning, after their victory in the by-elections has almost confirmed. Yonhap

By Kang Seung-woo

The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) swept the mayoral by-elections in the nation's two largest cities of Seoul and Busan by a landslide, Wednesday, giving a boost to the party ahead of next year's presidential election and further pushing beleaguered President Moon Jae-in into a lame duck presidency.

The PPP's Seoul mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon beat Park Young-sun of the DPK at 57.5 percent to 39.18 percent, while in Busan the PPP's Park Heong-joon nearly double the votes of the DPK's Kim Young-choon, at 62.67 percent to 34.42 percent, according to the National Election Commission, Thursday.

The by-elections to choose new mayors of Seoul and Busan took place at 3,459 polling stations across the country.

The mayoral posts of the nation's largest- and second-largest cities have been vacant following the resignation of former Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don in April last year and the suicide of former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon last July after both of them faced allegations of sexual harassment.

The new mayors of the two cities will assume the job, Thursday, and will serve out the remaining 15 months of the former mayors' four-year terms until June 30, 2022.

In response to an exit poll result which almost confirmed Oh's victory on Wednesday night, an emotional Oh, a former two-term Seoul mayor from 2006 to 2011, refrained from speaking, citing the ongoing vote counting, but the party's interim leader Kim Chong-in said the expected result was reflecting public anger over the Moon administration's irrational governing style.

"I think the elections mark a victory of the people's common sense ... this may be the expression of the people's rage toward the government today," Kim said.

The win has brought Oh back to the mayoral post 10 years after he quit the job during his second term in 2011 in protest against the opposition-dominated city council's introduction of a free school lunch program for all students.

His rival, Park Young-sun, told reporters, "I humbly accept the result," after her meeting with the party leadership, virtually conceding the election although official vote counting was not over.

The victory in Seoul and Busan would be the first huge triumph for the conservative PPP after it lost the 2016 general election, the 2017 presidential race, the 2018 local elections and the general election last year, in which it saw the DPK took 180 parliamentary seats or a supermajority in the National Assembly. It will give high hopes to the party in the run-up to the next presidential election, scheduled for March 2022.

Park Young-sun of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea leaves the party headquarters in Seoul, Wednesday, after making a comment accepting her defeat in the Seoul mayoral by-election. Yonhap
Park Young-sun of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea leaves the party headquarters in Seoul, Wednesday, after making a comment accepting her defeat in the Seoul mayoral by-election. Yonhap

Winning the mayoralties, especially in Seoul, was critical for both parties as the result is seen as a litmus test for next year's presidential poll as the capital is home to nearly 10 million of the country's 52 million total population.

However, the DPK was more desperate as it badly needed a win in Seoul, which would have provided a boost to President Moon.

The by-elections took place as the Moon administration and the ruling party have been struggling with public anger and falling approval ratings over their unsuccessful real estate and housing policies. In addition, a land speculation scandal involving public officials at the state-run developer, the Korean Land and Housing Corp. (LH), in the lead-up to the election added fuel to the fire, further pulling down their support.

In response, the PPP staged a campaign calling on voters to pass a judgment on the current government's policy failures.

Also, the by-elections were broadly considered a referendum on the Moon administration's handling of state affairs, with him in his final year in office. The biggest election defeat in five years dating back to the 2016 general election is expected to speed up a lame-duck presidency for Moon.

According to a Gallup Korea survey, last week, Moon's approval rating dropped to its lowest point at 32 percent, along with the disapproval rating at 58 percent, due mainly to his administration's poor real estate policies that have failed to curb skyrocketing housing prices nationwide. According to political analysts, a 30 percent approval rating is seen as the Maginot Line for a lame duck.

The stunning loss would deal a brutal blow to the President's bid to push ahead with key state policies such as overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, reviving the sluggish economy and rooting out corruption in the housing market, something backing up the idea that the leader should carry out a massive reshuffle of Cheong Wa Dae to turn things around.


Kang Seung-woo ksw@koreatimes.co.kr


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